Wednesday, April 11, 2007

Favorite Women of Art #6: Marriage-a-la-Mode II-Hogarth (1743)

Between the mid-Elizabethan period, starting with Spenser, and about 1750, when the custom of the Grand Tour had become solidly entrenched and Brittania's rule of the waves and relentless plying of the same helped make the wonders of foreign lands more widely known in that nation, England's poets and prose authors celebrated the whey-faced ladies of that country as the most beautiful in all creation with an enthusiasm that their descendents would, even if they felt the urge to do so, be embarrassed to aver. The Spectator plays up this angle for all it's worth, especially contrasting the artless and natural virtues and delights of the English roses with the vainglorious, conniving decadence of their counterparts in France. Likewise the Cavalier poets and others of that period such as Waller felt no compulsion to seek for ladies to honor in verse among ancient Greeks or medieval princesses, highborn Persians run away to the west in search of the true faith or Venetian chambermaids, when the daughters of Albion themselves were so near to hand. Shakespeare himself, though one of the most universal men ever to walk the face of the earth, was also a English patriot, and not above extolling the merits of the local womanhood in his all-conquering art. Now the economists will easily demonstrate that life in general at this period in England, compared to today, was cruel, painful, smelly and miserable, and no doubt most of us would have to confess them right, though the gaiety of the literature of those woeful bygone ages hints that at least pockets of consolation existed in the human mind and spirit that even we seem to be numb to in our own, whether willfully or not. In this nations are akin to schools, religions, occupations, arts, and sciences, in that a great deal of their strength, especially during the period of their ascension to that strength, is drawn from the general level of esteem with which the various members of the group, particularly the most prominent ones, regard their fellows, which promotes among other things, an atmosphere of high spirit and a sense of community. Thinking highly, or being able to think highly, of the attractiveness and general desirability (as well as ability, personality, intelligence, etc) of the women (or men) of the group of which one is a member or leader is a very high indicator of the health and future prospects of an institution or society. Obviously societies and institutions, being human constructs, mature or outgrow their youthful and perhaps ideal forms, a certain cosmopolitanism is forced upon them as a matter of circumstance, and for a time, sometimes a long one, they appear stronger, wiser, more dynamic than that which the small(er) original in-group inhabited. Eventually however the collective vital spirit is drained any beyond denial and the last remnants of the idea collapse, and no one plausibly identifies himself as a Roman anymore, though this was at one day the most consciously alive and active group of humans on the planet. But I go on too long.

Though I have no doubt the English ladies were as gorgeous at this time as the poets say they were, the nations painters did not really do their part in preserving the glory that was Sacharissa and her sisters. I have not found any pictures that really excite me drawn from this group of women. I chose this one because I have always liked the idea of the bawdy, lolling. gin-guzzling Englishwoman, who kind of went underground during the Victorian and Edwardian periods, but slowly began coming back in the 20s and has apparently overrun the womanhood of that great nation again, and Hogarth`s sleepy sensualist is a relatively cute example of the type (the type unfortunately is often not really very cute). Though they are strangely deficient in drawing people in general (though I would not include Hogarth in that censure) compared to certain other nations, I have always been a fan of the British landscape and sea painters, who do present a very distinct idea of how to look at and think of these things which I think we may take for granted because it so culturally near to us. Unlike bad things which we take for granted, and which may be called prejudices, I think these ideas tend to be quite beautiful and positively influence our thought, make us fuller men and women, especially if we are conscious of what we are doing.

I apologize for the sloppiness of the thought and writing here, but I wanted to post today as I probably won`t be back to a computer for 2 days. Why the rush? Nobodys reading the posts anyway, you say? Well, I have six more paintings to do and I want to move on.

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